While Sir Christopher Lee was generally closely associated with Hammer films, his career there was often tied with three main kinds of roles. There was his stint as Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy, where in The Mummy’s case you couldn’t tell it was him, and in case of the Monster, the character was not as well spoken as his literary counterpart. There were a variety of genteel, semi-posh aristocrats who were calm and reserved, even if they had their own forms of menace (and I’m including Fu Manchu in this). And then there was Dracula – arguably his most famous role, full of animal magnetism, elegance, and menace, but quite frequently very little dialog to sink Lee’s teeth into (pun intended). Rasputin: The Mad Monk gave Lee a character with all the magnetism of Dracula, but with an incredibly solid script to work with.
Rasputin: The Mad Monk is a sort of hybrid bio-pic and horror film, showing Rasputin’s rise from relative obscurity in rural Russia, until becoming the spiritual advisor to the Tsarina, and then ultimately his downfall. The film is quite up front by showing a version of Rasputin who was a hypnotist and a healer, but who was also utterly conniving and selfish, caring ultimately only for forwarding his own plans. This, in turn, gives Lee a ton to do. Between several very well done hypnosis scenes, to showing Rasputin boozing it up (and sexing it up), and engaging in various political manipulations.
Ultimately where the film stumbles some is from a couple factors. First off, Hammer films of this vintage were never great at giving agency to women (we really wouldn’t start to see them get into that until the Karnstein films), and it’s even more the case here. Second, bless them, Hammer tries to make their stock sets and backlot look like Russia, but it never quite works. Admittedly, I’m somewhat spoiled by filmmakers in the ‘90s and ‘00s filming on location in Prague for pennies on the dollar and getting natural production value out of the city’s history, but having Dracula’s castle double as the castle of the Tsar, and so on, doesn’t quite land as well.
It’s a fine enough movie – and if you love Christopher Lee’s work you owe it to yourself to seek this out, and the same if you’re a Hammer buff. However, if you’re new to the Hammer House of Horror, you’re better off starting with the Dracula or Frankenstein films first.Rasputin: The Mad Monk is available on Blu-ray from Amazon.com (affiliate link).
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